Here is the article from Katie, the first place winner of the 2018 Well Kept Wallet Scholarship!
In the seventh grade, I was given the task to complete 10 hours of community service to be a member of the National Junior Honor Society. Around the same time, my mom’s coworker’s son was injured during the war in Afghanistan.
In order to meet the community service requirement, I came up with the idea to start my own community service project. Little did I know that this project would surpass the 10-hour requirement by hundreds of hours and go on through the rest of my middle and high school career. This project is called We Care Packs.
Starting We Care Packs
I started We Care Packs by contacting various companies to ask for donations. We sent items from soap and toothpaste to Girl Scout cookies and coffee. Whatever people would donate we would send. We also included handwritten letters from community members and drawings from students at local elementary schools.
Soon after starting this project we realized how expensive it would be to pay for the postage of each package. Each flat rate box from the post office cost about $17.00 to ship.
To date, we have sent 2,010 care packages to soldiers in Afghanistan. At around $17 per package, that’s about $34,000.
In the beginning, we asked for monetary donations, and while every donation was greatly appreciated, we were not making as much money as fast as we had hoped. Then I came up with the idea to sell Fannie May candy bars.
Selling Candy Bars
Since 2012 this has been our largest “money maker” of this project. We sold each candy bar for a dollar, and we have sold thousands of them over the last eight years.
We started selling candy bars at a few different places. We had boxes at my mom’s work and a box at the location I did physical therapy for my ankle surgery. We would replenish the candy bars as they got low, collect the money and then repeat that process over and over. While this provided us with some funds, it was not steady.
So we began to look for different ways to sell the candy bars. We then began to sell the candy bars at different events. We would get tables at various home expos, veterans day events, and flea markets to sell our candy bars.
These events were our fastest way to make money and spread the message of We Care Packs. One of my favorite memories of selling candy bars was at Union Station in Chicago. We stood in the terminal with a table full of candy bars and sold them as people passed getting on and off trains.
The whole day was exciting and fast-paced, and we made about $3,000 towards postage costs. Selling these candy bars was a fun and relatively easy way to make money for my project. While we had to put in the effort finding locations to sell and setting up tables, it was well worth it.
Becoming a 501(c)3
In addition to needing postage money, many companies started to ask if We Care Packs was 501(c)3 certified. Once we realized this was preventing many companies from donating product to us, we used some of the candy bar money to hire a lawyer to complete the process for us.
Becoming 501 (c)3 certified greatly increased the number of companies that donated to us and was well worth the money spent. We were thankful to have the fundraising money to hire a lawyer because it cost more money than my family was looking to spend.
Being 501(c)3 certified allowed us to receive considerably more donations, which then enabled us to send even more care packages.
What She Learned
I enjoyed connecting with people about what I was doing, and I appreciated how much they wanted to help my cause.
Since going to college, I do not have enough time to continue this project. I have passed it on to my mom’s coworker that I mentioned earlier, and this ensured that it would not go away. The project continues, and packages are still being sent.
This experience taught me to be creative and consider what other people would be willing to spend a dollar on. Many people have one spare dollar and are willing to spend it on a high-quality candy bar.
Children also get excited when they see candy and are typically able to convince their parents to buy them one. I learned how to go about selling things to people and how to encourage them to buy without being too pushy.
I also learned that sometimes you don’t make as much money as you hoped and it is important not to get too discouraged. Now I encourage anyone who has a community service project to come up with an idea to connect with the community and sell them something small to make money for your cause.
By selling candy bars, I was able to pass out business cards and flyers. This lead to both monetary donations and product donations for the packages. It also allowed me to learn from others and hear suggestions they had about how to improve sales.
One lady suggested I change our table layout, and at the next event, I made even more sales. Another time a man offered to make me a larger, brighter banner to attract more attention.
Sure enough, sales also increased at the next event!
We Care Packs as a whole was an amazing opportunity for me and provided me with many experiences that have shaped my life. I am very thankful that I decided to start this community service project in the seventh grade, and I had little idea at that time how much it would affect my life.